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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 22, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 30
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Sweetie, darling, new AbFab movie a party for the fans
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS:
THE MOVIE
Now playing


After accidentally dumping Kate Moss over a ledge and into the Thames, publicist Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) finds herself at the center of an international paparazzi nightmare as people the world over are calling for her head for apparently killing the missing fashion icon and beloved supermodel. With the aid of best friend Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), the pair flee the country for the French Riviera with plans on finding a wealthy husband to bring comfort and stability back to both their lives. In the process, they have also absconded with Edina's 13-year-old granddaughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness), a situation the girl's mother Saffy (Julia Sawalha) simply will not stand for.

It's been a long road to the big screen for Edina and Patsy, the two heroines of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie first making their appearance on television way back in 1992 courtesy of the BBC. Since then, the pair have developed a massive following of admirers forcing Saunders and Lumley to come back to these two characters again and again over the past 24 years, and as such it's not too gigantic a surprise they finally find themselves headlining a major motion picture comedy. They've become cultural icons known the world over, so to say there is a passionate throng eager and ready to see what antics they are currently up to would be a gigantic understatement.

Admission: I never really watched the show. I've seen episodes, sure, but I was never so enamored with the half-hour comedy series that I felt the need to follow the adventures of Edina and Patsy with anything close to enthusiasm. I appreciated the show's cultural impact, and I sure as heck was impressed by the talented ladies who made it click (along with Saunders, Lumley and Sawalha, Jane Horrocks and June Whitfield were also series regulars who appeared in the majority of episodes), I was just never as captivated by the duo's antics as everyone else seemed to be, and so not too surprisingly I oftentimes wondered what all the fuss was about.

With that in mind, it's pretty safe to say Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie was not made for me. The film does not broaden the audience playing pretty much directly to the television show's core group of fans. Still, there are plenty of laughs to be found, and Lumley, at a fearless and electrically energetic 70 years of age, is positively brilliant as Patsy, blurring the gender line in such a way that is thought-provoking, inspired, imaginative and, truth be told, sometimes even a little bit offensive. There is magic to be found in her interactions with Saunders, the pair's shtick as vibrantly uncouth as it has ever been, and at a brisk 90 minutes I cannot say this theatrical variation on their ongoing story ever bored me, not for a single, solitary second.

Everyone's back, including Horrocks as Edina's oddly devoted assistant Bubble and a sublime Whitfield as her whip-smart mother. There are also a number of cameo appearances, most notably Jon Hamm as an object of affection for Patsy, Gwendoline Christie, Barry Humphries, Chris Colfer, Graham Norton, Lily Cole and Joan Collins. Also appearing are singers Lulu and Emma Bunton, the twosome Edina's last two clients, both of whom starting to wonder if keeping her as their public relations agent is a good idea all things considered.

Saunders' script moves in fits and starts, things slapped together as if they were a series of vignettes, all of them loosely tied together by the thinnest of strings. Considering her series and sketch comedy background, this isn't altogether surprising, and with this being the case the movie does have trouble maintaining narrative cohesion as things progress through their absurdist gradations. Director Mandie Fletcher, herself a veteran of a number of British television hits including 'Blandings,' 'Clatterford' and 'Black Adder,' allows her two stars, as well as the majority of the supporting cast, free rein to do what they would like, her handling of things as unfussy and as lightly unobtrusive as was likely possible.

Personally, I find that I respect Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie more than I can actually say I enjoyed the watching of it. This new version is as progressive and as in-your-face as the series itself ever was, and what it has to say about sex, gender, race, family and politics is as uncomfortable and as off-putting as it is provocative and necessary. Saunders and Lumley are still challenging convention, making people stand up and take notice of what is going on and why, and I salute them for that without any reservation whatsoever. I just wish the film itself did more than play so blatantly to the fan base, because had it broadened its appeal and its reach just a little bit more, it's quite possible we could have had something amazing here to be talking about.


Intense Lights Out a frightfully spooky supernatural thriller
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

LIGHTS OUT
Now playing


When Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) was a child, she was afraid of the dark. There was something, maybe someone, living inside of it, and as such sleep was hard to come by. Worse, it felt as if her psychologically unbalanced mother Sophie (Maria Bello) knew what was going on but wouldn't talk with anyone about it, a perplexing situation that as a youngster Rebecca wasn't mature enough to make heads or tails out of.

Years later, now a young woman with a boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia), who would love to take their relationship to the next level, Rebecca is called back home when her young half-brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) begins to have so much trouble sleeping through the night. A recent family tragedy has sent Sophie closer to the edge than ever, and as such she's once again speaking to an odd, otherworldly specter haunting the darkened hallways of their home. But the truth is even more disturbing, and even more deadly, than anyone knows, Rebecca quickly realizing her old childhood traumas weren't as imaginary as she was originally led to believe.

Based on director David F. Sandberg's award-winning short film of the same name, the supernatural horror-thriller Lights Out is a solid scary story to be told in the dark audiences are almost certain to be thrilled by. Working from a solid, smartly nuanced script by Eric Heisserer (Final Destination 5), the movie never betrays its premise, laying out its own internal machinations with a nice mixture of brevity and clarity that's surprisingly strong. Better, it never betrays its well-crafted mythology, building with honest intensity to the only satisfying conclusion open to it. This allows the picture to have a beginning, middle and an end, something of a rarity as it pertains to many similar B-grade genre efforts such as this.

Not that it will come as a shock to anyone, there is something in the dark, an entity that does not like the light and, for whatever reason, is intimately connected to Sophie to the point it will do just about anything to make sure the bond between them is never broken. This includes the haunting of Rebecca and Martin, its feelings of malice only growing the more they take it upon themselves to see their mother brought back to full health. As such this makes the danger they are both facing positively lethal, brother and sister needing to work together if they are going to find a solution to this supernatural enigma and help their mother conquer demons more literal than they are figurative.

It all works, mainly because Sandberg doesn't pander, taking things just seriously enough to matter yet also with a loose enough hand that gentle laughs littered throughout feel somewhat intentional. He and Heisserer seem to get the absurdity of their scenario and because of this refuse to overplay their hand at any point during the proceedings, the film's crisp 81 minutes passing with a succinct effortlessness that's close to perfect. While there are a handful of jump scares, they are organic to the material and not just unleashed for effect, and I like that much of the exposition necessary to make the more transient plot points clear are delivered inside the action and not by characters stopping for no rational reason to extrapolate upon them only because a lesser script would require them to.

The performances are solid, Bello, in particular, making the most of what easily could have been a disposable character, allowing Sophie layers of pathos and depth that grow in potency as things progress. It's also handsomely shot by Marc Spicer (Furious 7), while both Jennifer Spence's (Insidious: Chapter 3) production design and Shannon Kemp's (We Are Your Friends) are both pleasingly top-notch. While I'm not going to make any statements proclaiming Lights Out to be anything more than what it is, at the same time that doesn't make this nifty little horror opus any less wonderful. As far as thrills and chills go, Sanberg's feature-length debut revels in both of them, making this a spooky little endeavor I'm frightfully happy to say I enjoyed.


Beyond shows venerable 50-year-old Star Trek continuing to prosper
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

STAR TREK BEYOND
Now playing


From the moment Paramount Pictures and then director J.J. Abrams brought their new iteration of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek to the screen in 2009, there has been the thought the building blocks were decidedly in place to craft a motion picture that might equal or surpass Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) or Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) Without a doubt, 2013's disastrous Star Trek Into Darkness, a moribund, unfocused reinterpretation of the Khan Noonien Singh tale, was not it. More, it made some of us question if this reset timeline featuring the classic characters like Captain James T. Kirk, the Vulcan Spock and Dr. Leonard 'Bones' McCoy was nothing short of a complete waste of time, and as such the prospect of further adventures of the Starship Enterprise and her crew weren't nearly as exciting as they otherwise should have been.

I guess I shouldn't have been so worried. Star Trek Beyond isn't just the best of this most recent trilogy, it's also one of the best films in the entire series, and if it doesn't quite rank up there with Wrath of Khan or The Voyage Home it certainly deserves to be mentioned in the same breadth of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). Heck, it might even be better than that original cast finale, writers Simon Pegg (The World's End) and Doug Jung (Confidence), along with director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious 6) infusing things with a sense of whimsy, togetherness, imagination and most of all fun that's downright contagious. The team gets back to Roddenberry-like basics, and as such there is a charming, energetically invigorating warmth to this latest interstellar adventure of the U.S.S. Enterprise that held me happily in its soothing embrace for every second of this installment's two-hour running time.

Just over two-thirds of the way through the five-year mission, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the majority of his deep space Enterprise crew are beginning to feel the strains of living in the depths of deep space for such an extended period of time. After a brief stop at the massive, if remote, Federation outpost of Yorktown, the starship is tasked with aiding the surviving captain of a lost expedition investigating the mysteries lurking inside an adjacent nebula.

What they fly into isn't the rescue mission they were led to believe, however, a bloodthirsty warmonger calling himself Krall (Idris Elba) laying siege to the Enterprise in pursuit of a device he believes will aid him in bringing the Federation to its knees. After crash landing on a remote planet ruled over with murderous ferocity by this strangely single-minded villain, Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban), Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Montgomery 'Scotty' Scott (Pegg), Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), Pavel Andreievich Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and the surviving members of the Enterprise are aided by the resourceful Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). She escaped Krall's prisons years prior, eking out an existence in seclusion waiting for help to arrive. Now, just as she's ready to leave the planet for good, Kirk and company must ask her for additional assistance, all of them quickly coming to the conclusion that their lives are relatively insignificant when compared to the chaos and destruction that will be unleashed upon the universe if this madman's plans are allowed to be enacted.

The best thing about Beyond is that it remembers that the core strength of Star Trek is the camaraderie and friendship of the Enterprise's leadership unit. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov are a team. No, they're a family, each relying upon the person standing next to them to come up with ideas and fresh perspectives that could help them all work together to save the proverbial day. These are smart people, ones who are all willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice if it means those they serve with will live to see another dawn. More than that, they know that by working together, by helping one another come up with solutions to whatever problem might be vexing them, a solution can and will be found.

Abrams' films hinted at developing this dynamic, the first one in particular doing a fine job of putting the building blocks in place for the Enterprise to become what it was in both the fondly remembered 1960s television series as well as in the first six motion pictures that following it during the '80s and '90s. But they never delivered on it, Into Darkness for all intents and purposes devolving into a nonsensical action mishmash that did little to build the characters as a unit and everything to make the film somewhat standard and irredeemably stale sci-fi action fare. As perfectly as he cast it, I never got the feeling the director's heart was entirely where it needed to be, forcing one to wonder why he felt the need to tackle the venerable property in the first place.

Thanks in large part to Pegg and Jung's resourceful script though, while this latest Star Trek rarely breaks any new ground, that doesn't mean it still cannot help but soar. It gives the characters interesting, highly personal obstacles to overcome while also presenting a solidly fascinating puzzle for the Enterprise's intrepid crew to work as one to put together. As for Krall, while not a villain for the ages, he's still got just enough layers to remain a legitimate threat throughout, the revelation as to what is fueling his hatred of the Federation good enough to make him worthy of pity while at the same time not diluting one's desire to see Kirk hand him walking papers when the time comes. Jaylah is also a terrific addition, her spunky, effervescent enthusiasm increasingly infectious as her story works its way through to its natural, and admittedly somewhat expected, climax.

Lin almost can't help but pull from his Fast & Furious bag of tricks every now and then, and a couple of the action set pieces go on much too long. There's also a wee bit of over-editing during the more frenetic bits, and I did often wish things would settle down, if only for a passing second or two, so I could catch my breath and make sure I was keeping up with the various twists and turns Pegg and Jung were readying to unveil. As tight as it is, the film could actually be even more streamlined if it truly wanted to be, and I can think of multiple moments where exposition explaining what is going on and why isn't particularly necessary.

Yet, make no mistake, Star Trek Beyond accelerates to warp speed and then never looks back. Lin is more than capable of allowing the cast members room to breathe and evolve, while the actors themselves are all starting to fit into their respective roles as if they have been portraying them for all 50 years of Star Trek history. This is a good movie, possibly even a great one, proving without a shadow of a doubt that Roddenberry's baby is going to continue to live long and prosper for many happy years to come.






A Gentleman's Guide - A killer comedy
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Seattle Transmedia & Independent Film Festival (STIFF) returns July 28-31 with boundary-crossing new work
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Renaissance Faire will serve Drag and Rocky Horror
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Third Guirgis play this year shows he is a genius, and so is Sound Theatre Company!
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Sweetie, darling, new AbFab movie a party for the fans
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Intense Lights Out a frightfully spooky supernatural thriller
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Beyond shows venerable 50-year-old Star Trek continuing to prosper
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